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Alexandra Pringle. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Alexandra Pringle. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The editor-author chemistry

Publisher Alexandra Pringle on her friendships with the authors she works with

Alexandra Pringle is group editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Publishing, which has a select and international list, with writers like Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini, Michael Ondaatje, Kamila Shamsie, Esther Freud, Elizabeth Gilbert and Hannah Rothschild. Pringle, who has also worked with Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of publishing behemoth Penguin, says she found she didn’t “fit into the big life", and left to become a literary agent—“no one could tell me ‘no’; it would give me the freedom to choose who I wanted to work with." Then, one day, she was lunching with Liz Calder, founder-director of Bloomsbury, who said, “I would like you to become me when I retire."

Pringle, who has been with Bloomsbury for 16 years, works closely with many of the authors, building a strong backlist. But it’s not all just about work. Edited excerpts from a conversation about friendships and break-ups with writers:

You are known to have a deep friendship with some of the writers you work with.

There are some writers that you work with for so long, like Esther Freud, who I went shopping with (in Jaipur during the literature festival). I started with her 25 years ago, and we love working together and we are truly friends. But that’s unusual. But I think if you love someone’s work as a whole, there’s chemistry between the two of you. Another one is Hannah Rothschild. The thing with her is it’s just so much fun. And I think fun is important in life.

Any instances when the relationship went wrong? Is there a fine line to tread?  

It can go wrong, like every relationship. The relationship always needs to have a bit of distance. I’ve had situations with authors—one very interesting one. There’s a writer, Tim Pears, and I started with him from his first novel. And then I got it wrong in the way I talked to him because I felt we knew each other so well and I could just go straight into the problems of the book.

Sensitivities are always there, it doesn’t matter how well you know the person. It was shattering and we parted ways for a few years. And we’re coming back again. It’s the most amazing novel which we get to publish next year. I’m so excited about this incredible reunion. It means a big deal to me personally that we have a second chance.

I have another writer who I love and have worked with in the last 10 years, and she’s got a new project and it’s gone somewhere else. But what’s grown is a very strong friendship, and that won’t change. We travel together, we see each other all the time. It’s sad, but it’s not the end of the world. As you grow older, you learn to let go. Life is like a river, it flows on.

You’ve worked with Kamila Shamsie for a long time too.

I went from publishing to an agency back to publishing. Some of the authors (whose agent I was) I still work with. So Esther Freud, Geoff Dyer, Kamila Shamsie—I started as her agent. I met her because I was asked to contribute to a creative writing conference at a university in upstate New York. And I had to do a workshop, and the (stories) were all absolutely dreadful, except for one beautiful story about a boy flying a kite on a roof in Pakistan. And in the end, this very shy girl came up to me and said I think you published my great-aunt, Attia Hosain. And I had published Attia’s two books. I gave her my card and said there is a bigger narrative to this story, you must develop it into a novel and keep in touch with me. And over a couple of years, she sent me drafts, we worked together, I sold the book and it was published as In The City By The Sea. So, when I joined Bloomsbury, Kamila moved, and we have worked together for 20 years.

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